It’s not all concrete and crowds: tranquil spots are plentiful and charming

Skyscrapers, crowded crossings and fast trains, or Shinto shrines, quiet lanes and cherry-tree parks: Tokyo is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, but the sprawling metropolis is anything but predictable. Add to the mix a constellation of top restaurants, a bankruptcy-inducing quantity of shops, a nightlife scene to knock out the worst of insomniacs – and Tokyo’s status as a city of surprises and contrasts is confirmed.

Retail hotspots

Origami-inspired fashion at Issey Miyake's 132.5 store Shopping is elevated to near spiritual heights in Tokyo, a modern-day temple to consumerism. First, pop into Mitsukoshi, one of the city’s oldest department stores, conveniently located on the doorstep of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Next stop, Omotesando: wander along the wide leafy boulevard, past the big fashion stores, before exploring the minimalist Omotesando Hills shopping centre. A short stroll away, in Aoyama, there’s Issey Miyake’s 132.5 boutique, as well as Yohji Yamamoto and the Comme des Garçons flagship store. For an edgier retail fix, wander the lanes of Daikanyama, which are peppered with independent shops such as indigo-dying specialist Okura and music store Bonjour Records.

 

City highlights

Map of Tokyo Swap neon lights for a taste of old Tokyo in Asakusa, the historic former pleasure district of the capital. Unmissable among the winding back lanes, food stalls and old-fashioned kimono stores is the red, tiered Senso-ji, the oldest temple in the city. Just follow the walkway of stalls selling traditional sweets and souvenirs.

Perfect for jet-lagged insomniacs is a sunrise pilgrimage to the city’s famous fish market, Tsukiji. Explore the colourful variety of unidentifiable maritime creatures on display, before tucking into the world’s freshest sushi breakfast at one of the small restaurants on the market’s fringes.

For a taste of Tokyo’s subculture, head to Harajuku. Wander past rainbow-bright tribes of crazily dressed young Tokyoites, and make a beeline for the elegant wooden gates at the entrance to Meiji Jingu, a serene Shinto shrine at the end of a path that cuts through a forest.

 
Find bliss The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo gets double points for its sweeping panorama

Art and crafts

The Nezu Museum Aoyama isn’t just about shopping: Nezu Museum is home to a celebrated collection of traditional Japanese artefacts, and the Kengo Kuma-designed building – all bamboo walkways, walls of glass and pebbled paths – is equally eye-catching. Best of all are the gardens, a tumbling green enclave with ponds and a small tea room that feels a million miles from central Tokyo.

Design lovers should visit 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. Housed in a semi-submerged, angular concrete-and-glass space designed by Tadao Ando, the museum shows an imaginative array of exhibitions. Meanwhile, slightly off the beaten track in Komaba is the Mingeikan Folk Crafts Museum. Set in an atmospheric, traditional wooden Japanese house on a quiet residential lane, the museum displays a beautiful collection of simple, functional and anonymous crafts.

 

The great escape

The futuristic Himiko river boat Ueno Park is a vast green space filled with lotus ponds, shrines, cherry trees, fountains and historic museums – and is great for people-watching. Exploring the city by water is also recommended. For a nocturnal cruise across Tokyo Bay, hop on board the Himiko – a futuristic waterbus with 3D windows, designed by anime artist Leiji Matsumoto. Or for the perfect daytrip-by-the-sea, take a one-hour train journey to Kamakura – Tokyo’s answer to The Hamptons. Surrounded by dense green hills, the former ancient capital is home to a string of Buddha statues, old temples and a thriving surfing community.
 
Where to drink A sake-based, chestnut-flavoured signature cocktail in the atmospheric Mandarin Bar is the perfect fuel to kick-start a night out

Top treatments

The tranquility Suite at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo Bathing is a near-spiritual art form in Japan. Strip off and soak away the jet lag in indoor/outdoor, traditional-style natural hot-spring baths – including one that looks out to Mount Fuji – at Seta Onsen Sanga-no-Yu. The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, however, gets double points for the sweeping panorama from its 37th-floor location, combined with the serene baths-with-a-view and expert treatments. Try the Azuki Ritual with azuki-bean scrub.
 

Good taste

Tapas Molecular Bar With a hefty sprinkling of Michelin stars, Tokyo is foodie heaven. In Roppongi, the nightlife capital of Tokyo, the lively restaurant Robataya eschews a written menu. Instead, a variety of fresh seafood, meats and vegetables are laid out behind a U-shaped counter. Point to what you want to have and watch as the chefs pick it up on a long paddle, grill it on the spot and pass it back to you using the long paddle. Twenty minutes by car from the hotel, Esaki’s cuisine is inspiring and original. Chef Esaki conducts meticulous research on each product and his mastery of technique allows him to cross culinary boundaries. The same dishes are incorporated into both the lunch and dinner set menus; the prices differ according to the number of dishes but both are very appealing. Among the city’s most imaginative culinary experiences is the Tapas Molecular Bar, at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Don’t be surprised if you ‘breathe dragon fumes’ during a deft performance of mixology.

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